Food needs to taste good. It also needs to look good.
Most humans recognize unity and good composition. This is why we are so sensitive to culinary presentations. We respond to stimuli and psychological perceptions influenced by our background, education, trends, etc…
In a restaurant kitchen, when they plate food, chefs influence that perception by effectively following a set of guidelines and bring harmony to the look of a culinary presentation. In other words, chefs engage diners.
While it took me 6 years of culinary school and 17 years of work experience to figure out some presentation conundrums, there are also a few easy chef tips that will dramatically improve your plate presentations. And lucky you, you just happened to visit the right page for that. Here they are. Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Use large, simple, white plates.
Round, square, or rectangular; the choice is yours. But colored, funny shaped plates or bowls usually distract the eye from the star of the show: your food. Center your food and leave the rest clean; that’s the principle of ”white” or “negative” space. White space allows the elements to exist at all and is key to composition. It reinforces the elements of the presentation.
In culinary arts, chefs use white space to strengthen their presentations in much the same way. By subtracting elements and increasing the amount of space, the featured elements of prepared food seem visually stronger. Crowded food looks horrible.
Work with the right tools.
Plating needs its own tools.
Keep it simple.
Complicated presentations usually miss the point and distract from the wholesomeness of the food. Simplicity is hard to achieve. But trust me, there is beauty in it.
Rule of odds.
The rule of odds is used in many art disciplines, in particular painting, photography and advertising. It states that objects displayed in odd numbers seem to bring unity to a composition. The logic behind this rule is that by displaying, three, five, seven, etc… items instead of even numbers, there is always one item that looks framed by the surrounding ones, which looks harmonious. Even numbers tend to bring symmetry in the composition, which appears less natural.
When slicing a grilled chicken breast to place atop a salad, for instance, it is best to make five slices instead of four or six. Likewise, when plating asparagus in combination with other vegetables, it is best to place three or five instead of four or six.
Always choose the freshest products (It always shows).
Playing on the unusual color of ingredients creates a focal point. For instance, using green tomatoes, or yellow raspberries or blood orange brings creativity to the plate and engage the diner.
Meat needs to rest. A rule of thumb is to let it rest 1/2 of the cooking time. If you grill a tenderloin steak for 10 minutes, let it rest for 5 minutes. This will allow for the meat fibers to rehydrate from the inside out (since searing pushes the juices in), make it way more tender, and your steak won’t leak on the plate.
Use clean plates.
It sounds like an obvious one, but I see way too many fingerprints and towel streaks on the edge of plates. Not appetizing.
You may want to prepare a little bowl filled with white vinegar, and a clean towel to clean the edge of the plate.
Fluff. Don’t squish.
The best example to illustrate this is greens. When plating a salad of fresh greens, make sure you don’t squish it down against the plate. Work with your hands (use gloves) and give it height. Fluff it! Make it look light and airy and big; Not flat.
13. Visualize the end result.
It’s easier to get somewhere if you know where you’re going. Visualize your finished plate will help you with the process.
14. Use edible, relevant garnishes.
Enough rosemary sprigs stuck straight into the mashed potatoes!
15. And pluuh-ease… stop that stupid 90′s trend of sprinkling chopped parsley on the rim of the plate, or drizzling sauce in a “Z” pattern. You’re showing your age.